From Whiskey To Water: A Guide To Your First Year Sober
When I went sober in 2017, I didn’t have any sober friends, there wasn’t much modern information or practical strategies to equip myself with. Today, the rise in sober curiosity has dramatically increased the number of resources to help guide one through their transition to sobriety. I’m here to humanize some of them.
It was 10:24 am on December 28th, 2017, I checked my Lyft receipt from that day, when I pushed open the basement door and walked into my parent's house, my childhood home, where I was currently living. New Year's eve was 4 days away.
The downstairs fridge was filled with leftover Christmas beers, a medley of Sam Adams, Bud Lights, and Coronas, and a bottle of Prosecco. I reached for the shelf below and grabbed a water and Gatorade, then continued to my room, undressed, and showered.
Sitting in the shower I recounted my first attempt in October, my second in November, and now this, my third failed attempt.
How hard was this going to be?
Oh, sorry, I should have been more clear, these were attempts at going sober.
Today, I write you two years and two months from that morning in the shower, having just celebrated another soberversary.
That 4th time worked. Or, is working.
When I went sober, I didn’t have any sober friends. I have a couple now. The only resources I had were online blogs, a few personal essays, and intimidating audiences in AA meetings. I didn’t have a guide, so to say.
So, I thought I’d share an honest look into what life after drinking looks like, concentrated in year one, in a very matter of fact way so you might be properly equipped.
Nomatter the time, date, or day you begin your sobriety, within the first year you will experience a holiday season, a spring and summer, a high school or college reunion, and depending on age maybe a wedding or bachelor/ette party. This, in addition to the drinks after work and networking events you might be invited to on top of your normal social commitments.
We’re going to cover them all.
Before we even begin the guide though, there’s a critical step we need to take.
Huge, HUGE, decision by you. I admire how brave and courageous you are being right now, and want to send you the power to recognize how strong you already are. I love you.
The next thing is to know that sobriety is your choice. You can’t control how others react to it, only how you introduce it to them.
Let’s begin there.
Your friends, your drinking buddies, might feel threatened or offended at your decision to go sober. Because most of your relationships have shared affectionate energy towards consuming alcohol and you’ve had it present or anchoring most of your time spent together, by you rejecting alcohol, it might feel like, to them, that you are rejecting them. That’s why it is so important to communicate clearly, and from the beginning.
When I went sober, I either told my friends in person, if they were local, or texted them that I wasn’t going to drink anymore. I included my why for sobriety which was that alcohol was affecting my mental, emotional, and physical health, and interfering with my dreams. I confirmed this was not about them, nor an indictment of their lifestyle choices, this was all about me and the person I see in the mirror. This put them on my team. If you do this, you can count on them to be your biggest supporters. Today, I have one friend that always has either a water with lemon, or ginger ale waiting for me wherever we go. He’s on my team.
Over time though, be aware that you might grow distant from some friends. My sober Saturday’s were now being spent outdoors or with family doing activities without alcohol, while some of my best friends still stayed in the city and went to bars. That’s fine. Growing distant as a result of investing in yourself is not selfish, nor wrong. It happens. I even ended up moving across the country to Los Angeles because the environment provided me a more aligned way of living. Again, without clear communication, this could have soured friendships. Now, it just gives them a place to visit.
The quality of friendship isn’t defined by the quantity of time spent together, it’s the quality of that time. My friends are there for me when I need them. They read my writings about alcohol and know it’s not about them, or directed at them. My sobriety is about me. Period.
We don’t choose our family, but we choose how we treat them. During my first year of sobriety, I was less vocal about my decision and just declined beverages with alcohol in them. It ended there. On my first soberversary, I wrote a personal essay, Last Year I Drank Tequila, and I sent it to every family member. They were shocked.
They thought someone who chose sobriety looked different. I was an Ivy-League educated manager at a Boston Tech company who always had a smile on his face. The important work that came next was educating them on alcohol-use disorder’s expanded definition and destigmatizing who suffers with it. As I’ve written before, the barrier to entry for alcohol-use-disorder is quite low, 1 in 4 Americans experience it.
The responses of my family weren’t meant to be rude. They had so much love for me, just sometimes things can come out a certain way. So, engage with your family with compassion, and forgive what they say in your first few conversations after “going sober”. They mean no harm, they’re just concerned for you. Your decision might also unsettle those in your immediate family because they’ll try to share guilt and ask themselves, did I cause this? Calm them down and confirm with them that this is about you.
*Disclaimer: If your family is full of Italians, you may need to be a little more aggressive with your declining of drinks in year one. The same way they force food on you, they’ll force wine and limoncello and say “Oh, c’mon, thissa not alcohol issa fruit. Grape issa fruit. Lemon issa fruit.” Stay strong. Work
Let’s be honest, work “culture” is a little bullshit. Tobacco, Alcohol, and poor diet and physical inactivity are the top three leading causes of preventable death in America, and work often invites 2 of these 3 in on a daily basis. So, if someone pushes back on your sobriety at work, there’s a little ammo for you.
When I went sober, I had an executive from my company suggest I not use that word, sober, because it would imply instability. What they didn’t know was that sobriety was a superpower, and by removing alcohol I was improving my performance, my sleep, my mental health and becoming a better employee. When telling your co-workers, it’s not much different than your friends. Be honest, be clear with communication, and they’ll join your team. There is NO shame in sobriety.
The above relationships are those you keep closest and interact with most, and now it’s time to expand into other people and aspects of life that will remain present as you pursue sobriety.
Or actually, swipe right. I’ll be totally honest, I’ve only gone on two dates sober. The first was on December 27th and was the last time I drank (I had 6 weeks of sobriety going into the double date) and the second was with my current partner that I’ve been with for two years.
In my current relationship, neither of us drink, and out of respect for you, I have to share that it’s just so much easier dating and being in a relationship with someone who doesn’t drink. That’s not to say you can’t date people who drink, but alcohol plays such a distinct role in dating culture today, it’s difficult to avoid it comfortably in sobriety.
Being on a date already causes a little bit of nervousness, and alcohol is known to calm those nerves. So, if a person you’re out with orders wine to calm theirs, it’s going to be tempting for you to engage in the consumption of alcohol as well. That’s what happened to me on that double date. Dating a person who drinks also increases the odds that you’ll find yourself back in environments anchored in alcohol. It’s something to consider, and writing from experience it’s game-changing when you date or are in a relationship with someone who doesn’t drink, because what previously were limitations on where you could go on a date since it needed to serve alcohol, now you have an abundance of new and creative dates to go on.
As far as telling the person you are on a date with you don’t drink, I’ll sound off again and say: Clear, honest, and confident communication is the way to go.
If those dates go well, you may soon find yourself shedding clothes and touching skin.
So, let’s go there.
I can only write for men here, so any females reading please drop a comment if there are truths from your end we should know about. Men get embarrassed when they ejaculate quickly during sex, fearing rumors that they can’t “last-long” getting spread around town, school, or wherever because they think it will make them a less attractive sexual partner. So, to “numb” themselves a bit, men drink alcohol.
The science behind this, according to Dr. Harry Fisch, urologist and professor of clinical reproductive medicine at Weill Cornell Medical College, is that your sensations are dulled and your erection isn’t operating at full potential, therefore delaying ejaculation. A dangerous game men play, because too much alcohol can lead to a complete loss of function for the night.
So, men, now that you no longer are consuming a desensitizing substance you’re going to feel things. Like, really feel things. That’s ok. “Breathe Hunny Breathe Hunny!” you got this. Just have a conversation with your partner about it, don’t be embarrassed and if you really want, Roman has swipes formulated to reduce overstimulation without eliminating sensation altogether that you can try.
With sex though, you’re going to have higher self-awareness and more intention with who you choose as your partner so it will likely be more meaningful, in addition to more memorable. Enjoy that!
Are we laughing a bit?
Did the Italian accent and sex convo put you at ease a little?
Ok good. That’s what I had hoped. I wanted for us to get comfortable before we have our first harder conversation.
Twice now in this guide, I’ve shared with you that I wasn’t able to maintain sobriety from my first 3 attempts. The fourth try, the sobriety streak I am on now, is when it worked and it’s because of the steps I outlined above.
I share to let you know there’s a high chance you’ll relapse, or drink again. The truth, reported by Dr. Omar Manejwala, is that only about a third of people who are abstinent less than a year will remain abstinent, of those who achieve a year of sobriety, less than half will relapse, and if you can make it to 5 years of sobriety, your chance of relapse is less than 15 percent. So this isn’t a short path to celebration, but then again every day of this new life is a celebration.
Temptation will always be there. It was the allure of a day drink, the excitement of a work function, and the nerves of a date that caused me to drink again, and as a result of those actions, I found myself driving a car 100 mph snapchatting friends the speedometer, walking the streets of Boston in below-freezing weather in a T-shirt at 3 am, and ruining a relationship. All I’m saying is be committed, but don’t be unfair to yourself. Expectations are dangerous things to have, take it one day at a time and practice self-love with compassion and forgiveness.
That was necessary.
Now, back to social life.
Soon you’ll go out again. One thing I started doing when I was back in bars and clubs was asking bouncers not to mark my hand with an X or give me the 21+ bracelet, to further deter me and actually block me from drinking. I even went so far as to introduce myself to bartenders, ask for water and say “do not serve me I am sober”. You’d think a bartender wouldn’t care because they want tips, but that’s unfair, they’re humans and want to support you. I even found a lot of sober bartenders who were feeding me water all night long. It became fun. Most bars and clubs today also carry non-alcoholic beers in an attempt to satisfy the rise in sober-curiosity, so those are always options.
As for the logistics of nights out, I try to always be the first to arrive at a social gathering, almost guaranteeing I’ll be able to have sober conversations with everyone before they drink, and then slip out around 11, and always before 12, before it gets too wild.
If you keep dipping out early for proper restorative sleep and being more selective about where and how you’re spending your time, what you’ll find is a surplus of time. You’ll start having nights and weekends back, in addition to overall energy.
So, how do you spend it?
I started a company, I started writing and I rode my bike across America alone. You don’t have to do any of that. Find comfort in this new time. Read the book you wanted. Go visit that place a few hours away you wanted to. Go slow. In time you’ll find new hobbies, and even disqualify new hobbies, because, with all this time you’ll no longer be making to-do lists and sticking them on your fridge, you’ll find yourself with completed checklists of things you have done. More time means more experiments. How fun is that?
As much as alcohol is a gateway drug, sobriety is too. But, in a good, non-self-destructive way. Sobriety is such an act of self-love and investment in your wellness that it will lead to more aligned practices. For me, it quickly became meditation and yoga. These then led to a curiosity of how else can I be treating my body better, so I began self-educating on plant-based diets, new methods of movement, and sleep.
I want to reiterate this is my personal experience. I won’t be so bold as to suggest this as a template for sobriety, but it’s definitely the blueprint of my first year and you are more than welcome to try it out. I’m here for any questions!
In that first year were also a few one-offs that I wanted to highlight.
Bachelor & Bachelorette Parties
I don’t go on these trips. In fact, when the email goes out, I usually respond in under 2 minutes with a hard no. I’ve conditioned my friends for this response so no one is offended. This is quite the contrast from who I was 3 years ago as I was the first to sign up, book travel, and arrive at a friend’s Bachelor party in Austin, TX. Hello Rainey Street! What’s interesting now, years into my sobriety, is that I’m beginning to reconsider my presence at these events.
Over the winter holidays, a friend asked if I skied, to which I replied no. So, they assumed I had no interest in a weekend ski-trip. They were wrong. The idea of sleeping in, when everyone else hits the slopes, and spending the morning reading by a fire, and the afternoon preparing food for when my friends return is magical. Maybe these skills could be transferable to a bachelor party? While friends enjoy adult beverages I could be a designated driver or kitchen manager. Peter Oswald, you’re getting married soon — can I come?
Holidays, Weddings, Celebrations
You may find yourself at a table with pre-filled champagne glasses. Tell the person next to you they can have yours. Also, inform the staff that you won’t be having any wine so they can remove your glass from the table.
I used to solo backpack the globe 4–6 weeks each year from ages 22–26. I’d use alcohol and dance moves as my wingmen. When I’d pick destinations, I always focused on nightlife. That’s why I chose Budapest, Prague, Thailand, and so many more destinations. Even when it wasn’t a “party” destination, I sniffed the party out.
Just because I don’t drink doesn’t mean I don’t still travel.
In the way that I found new hobbies and invested in my wellness, I seek out travel destinations that embrace this new lifestyle. Rather than the latest study abroad hotspot, I find myself interested in Costa Rica, Oaxaca, Tulum, and India. But, and this is really cool, the surge in non-alcoholic beverages and spirits happening in Germany and the UK has spilled into most of Europe so now I can live that same backpacker life that I did 5 years ago just with non-alcoholic beverages. My lives have intersected.
Well, that’s what year one looked like for me in a nutshell. But, there are still two sensitive and important topics I want to surface. Before I do though, for a third time, I just want to be clear that this is my opinion, my experience. You’ll have yours.
When I went sober, it meant sober from anything that alters my state of consciousness. There is a shitty debate in the sober world about what is and isn’t sober, it’s mostly focused on the use of Suboxone in relation to Opioid Use Disorder, but it’s even infected the recovery of individuals from different substances. For some, Sober means only from alcohol, so smoking weed is totally cool. And, that’s 100% their decision. For me, it meant everything.
I wanted to have such control and such intention of my every thought, word, and action that I couldn’t allow any substance to influence me anymore. Even when I’m stressed or just want to relax and the thought of smoking a joint or using mushrooms excites me, I reach for meditation and my new hobbies out of respect for my original commitment. Substances to me were a vehicle for escapism and fragile confidence, and when I decided to go sober, it was an absolute decision.
Do you think you’ll ever drink again? It will be your 50th time answering this question, but for the person asking it will be their first time asking someone who is sober. You’ve practiced compassion with yourself, now practice it with others.
For me, I really thought I would drink again. I thought when I was older, I’d retire to a beach community and have wine every night, just a few glasses. Now, no way. Not only do I feel like sobriety is a superpower, and am I too aware of the dangers of alcohol, I honestly have no need for it.
That’s all we got, and chances are I missed something that you were curious of so I’m happy to engage further in the comment sections should you have a question. I also wanted to include a list of resources ranging from programs, to bars, to beverages that can now be part of your sober life, and I’ve done so below.
If I were to sum up sobriety I would say this: Sobriety isn’t restrictive. It’s limitless.
This list is not an end-all and be-all, and it is definitely populated with my preferences, but we got this far, why stop now?
Here are some of my favorite sobriety tracking apps, sobriety schools and online programs, Alcohol-Free bars in America, and non-alcoholic beverages!
*I don’t drink any of the CBD or Hemp Infused products so those won’t be on the list.
Tempest (Online sobriety school and aftercare program)
One Year No Beer (Leading habit changing program)
Listen Bar (New York, Touring)
The Other Side (Chicago)
Sans Bar (Austin, Kansas City, St. Louis, Los Angeles)
Beers There is not much in life better than a craft non-alcoholic beer, especially since we know the health benefits of one. Here are my favorites!
Brooklyn Brewing (Special Effects)
Hairless Dog (Black Ale)
Bravus (Amber Ale)
Spirits With mocktails, there is much more range so I want to share the top alternatives in the space and let you test em out!
Kin (Dream Light)
Caleno (Juniper & Inca Berry)
Ritual (Gin Alternative)
Curious Elixirs (#3: Floral. Cucumber. Lemon. Ashwagandha)
Sea Arch (Coastal Juniper)
Atopia (Spiced Citrus)
Teas This might be an unfamiliar category to you, but trust me it is delicious. Go try one today
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